Appearances aren’t everything. That’s the message from the newest film from alias writer and director Michael Carney. The film is called ‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ and centers around international art dealer Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear), who meets and befriends a homeless man (Djimon Hounsou) in hopes of saving his struggling marriage to Debbie (Renée Zellweger) after Ron has been caught cheating with another woman. Debbie is a woman whose lucid dreams of the foretelling future will lead all three of them on the most remarkable journey of their lives, and challenge each other to see the good in those less fortunate. Additional cast includes Jon Voight who plays Hall’s father, with whom he reconciles thanks to the revelations and lifestyle changes of his new lease on life. ‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some violence and adult language.
Another religious movie, another day. But what makes ‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ any (pardon the pun) different? Well, this film based on real life events harvests a strong positive message that moves miles in how we view those who we deem as different because of race, well-being, or even social predicament. It’s a valuable watch for anyone looking for a feel good kind of story that forces us to take a look at our own comfortable lifestyles and choose to give a little more, giving into the kind of heart that everyone needs. This kind of social commentary fits in appropriately with the ever-changing world of today and poverty rates reaching unprecedented new heights, but it stumbles its rich narrative with a forceful spoon-feeding of religious propaganda that at times feels unnecessary to the material. Why does this trend continue with these kind of films? Just because something is classified as a religious movie, a film will choose to rest on those low hanging pieces of fruit that jumble these films all together in the same grouping, wasting precious minutes of valued screen-time to satisfy an agenda within itself.
That agenda crumbles the more I think about it. The profit of sorts for this film is Zellweger’s Debbie whose own conscience desire to help out is valid, but when she gets husband Ron involved, you start to see the glaring holes in this narrative. For one, Ron is forced to be a better person because of his unfaithful deed against his wife that has left him sleeping on the couch. To get things back to normal, Ron is forced against his own free will to help out at the local church serving meals. I guess when all else fails, blackmail and see if they will profit on the valuable lessons that you are desperately trying to instill. The second problem that I have is a majority of this film is told in flashbacks for Hounsou’s flimsy exposition that feels like it has to fill in the gaps to understand his hatred against others. It’s a fine tool to use once or twice in a single movie, but to go back to this trick on four separate occasions really slowed down the progression of the story for me that was already sloppily being told through a flashback itself. That’s right, it’s a flashback within a flashback. The running narrative for the movie takes place two years prior to where the film starts off, and made even more confusing by Hounsou’s character needing to tell us a story about his rough past every ten minutes. It’s a convoluted track that goes off road in repetition, and because of such, it makes the film a sloppy sell to feel immersed in.
Then there’s the major glaring problem that takes out the authenticity of the message. So much of the story is based on giving back to others who are in need, but the film doesn’t feel bashful in showing us how this family is only really helping one person in the overall bigger picture, as well as their lavish lifestyles that involve holiday cabins in the woods and Mercedes automobiles at their disposals. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with enjoying nice gifts, but it seems phony when the very people preaching about what the less fortunate deserve are the same ones who are obviously living well above their means. The film kind of writes itself into a corner by understanding this jumbled intention, and about midway through the movie decides to pay less attention to what its characters are doing to help bridge the gap of divide, and focus solely on a surprising subplot that comes out of left field and gives the film the dramatic depth that it finally deserved to a somber finish.
At least the production value feels like feature length film quality for once, and not the kind of movie that seems ripe for a picking in a Hallmark Channel movie of the week. The film takes the time to construct some real beauty from within, garnering some artistic landscape shots that cast a beautiful parallel to the story’s heartfelt intention. In addition to this, The subtlety of the lighting feels warranted for the the interior shots, and never gives off that vibe of too much intrusion by a cinematographer trying to place beauty in scenes where it doesn’t feel natural. The editing isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly better than religious genre movies prior to this one that kept the camera running a bit too long for certain scenes. That same problem happens here a few times, but it’s more of the finished running time of 114 minutes that could certainly use a trimming for the final cut. That lengthy investment of sermon does start to wear itself thin during the second act, when there’s no shortage of exposition repetition that could be cut for the better of the fluidity of script.
There was one solid performance amongst the sea of phoned-in deliveries that are simply collecting a paycheck until their next big project ship comes rolling in. That person is Hounsou’s emotionally triggered range as Denver, the homeless man whom we come to understand through some utter devastation from his past. So much of Djimon’s release feels against tone here because he doesn’t have much in the face of dedicated actors who he can bounce off of, but this man steals scenes endlessly every time he is on screen, engaging us with enough energetic passion that feels like it comes straight from the heart of an actor who tries to make something more of this chance. I should explain that Zellweger and Kinnear aren’t terrible, it’s just that their characters don’t have a lot of depth in this kind of story. They are pretty much left to play the plain types that are living out God’s plan without interruption, and while that may be great for the definition of a protagonist, it simply doesn’t give them anything challenging to commit themselves to in terms of noteworthy roles that they will come to be known for when their careers are winding down. Voight is decent as the alcoholic father of Kinnear’s character, but he’s written as quite one-note, as once you’ve seen one scene with him, you’ve seen them all.
THE VERDICT – There’s not a lot that makes ‘Same Kind of Different As Me’ standout as a worthy warrior for the genre that tries to play against stereotypes. The redundancy of problems like a heavy-handed script or lack of subtlety when it comes to the subject matter are still there, leaving Carney’s film the same kind of different crap that the genre has been known for. Hounsou’s enigmatic performance, as well as solid production quality are good starts, but we’re going to need more originality to see the light of these life-affirming messages that constantly miss their mark.